While the Constitution of the United States enumerates responsibilities for the three branches of government, some of the most critical roles that have evolved through our centuries of democratic governance are implied rather than explicitly enumerated. One of the most important ‘implied’ roles is Congressional (Legislative) oversight of the Executive Branch. While the Judicial Branch provides paths for understanding Constitutionality and provides tools for aggrieved parties to force the Executive Branch to follow/execute the law, Congressional oversight provides a path to enable more effective governance. That is, of course, if that oversight is done with serious intent to improve governance and with concern about the well-being of American citizens and of the Republic.
Today, the House Energy and Power Subcommittee will conduct a long-overdue hearing on climate change.
In a rational political world, this would be a good thing. With the science settled that humanity is contributing to global warming and that climate change creates risks for the Republic (today and into the future), there is very legitimate space for discussing best paths forward for climate mitigation and adaptation:
- What are the best roles for government?
- What is balance between
- Is regulation or direct funding a better path for
- What should balance be between investment in basic research, technology / otherwise development, and deployment?
- And …
Knowledge about climate change — not just science but also what is going on within the government (and other nations) — is important to enable thoughtful debate and decision-making about which are the right paths forward.
Today’s hearing could discuss basic Climate Change truths with thoughtful interaction as to how the nation — and Congress — should act in the face of truth.
With the realm of legislative oversight, people who take seriously Congress’ role to understand what is going on within the Administration to help foster better governance would not find it hard to develop legitimate arenas of examination and discussion:
- Are critical arenas (scientific, technological, fiscal, regulatory, etc …) slipping through the cracks due to the complex structure of the U.S. government?
- Are there arenas of overlap, where better coordination could led to more effective use of taxpayer resources?
- What areas of uncertainty merit Congressional focus?
- Are there legislative and/or legal gaps requiring Congressional action to enable more effective governance?
- And …
Rational people concerned about leveraging legislative oversight in the striving to ‘create a more perfect Union’ could come up with a myriad of questions and arenas of discussion for dozens of days of hearings.
Sadly, however, we should not expect such legitimate oversight at today’s hearing. Instead, the hearing room is likely to be treated to anti-science syndrome suffering peppered with plenty of climate-denial gish gallop and impassioned staged outrage over miniscule ‘gotcha’ moments.
Take a look, for a moment, at the questions sent to the Administration from the subcommittee chair. Questions 3-6 all start “identify all”. Cabinet members oversee organizations with 1000s (or 10,000s or 100,000s or 1,000,000s) of people, with large and varied structures, with huge numbers of programs and responsibilities, and large budgets. Within a time period of ever-more constrained resources, the Administration officials either stopped all work to seek to identify “all” or determined that it was a fruitless endeavor. And, even if they sought to divert resources from critical activities to try to “identify all”, we can be sure that they failed to report something due to the breadth of the question. Thus, what is the likelihood that, at some point in today’s hearing, a climate-science denying Representative will attack an Administration for some failure to “identify all”? Hmmm …
For a functioning democracy, legitimate legislative oversight is a critical tool in the effort to ‘create a more perfect Union’. It is something that citizens shouldn’t just welcome but demand. And, it is vitally important for the most important issues for the Republic’s future prosperity and security.
Sadly, however, today’s hearing is almost certainly to be illegitimate …